On 10 January the Daily Mail published this front page story:
It included the claim that more than £3,346 of NHS cash had been spent on champagne by NHS drugs watchdog NICE over the past two-and-a-half years. That was enough to get right wing pressure group the Tax Payers' Alliance diving in headlong with a ready soundbite to pad out the Mail's story:
Robert Oxley, of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "The contrast of people dying of thirst on wards while officials blow taxpayers' money at a champagne bar could not be more striking."
Tory MP Charlotte Leslie also waded in with some rentaquote outrage, lending her weight to the Mail's headline accusation of champagne-fuelled extravagance within the NHS:
"On no conceivable planet is expenditure at a champagne bar in any way appropriate."
The only problem? Nearly a fortnight later this correction appeared, tucked down the bottom of page 2 of the Daily Mail (Friday 22 January):
So the money wasn't spent on champagne after all. Rather it was spent with a company which as well as owning some fancy champagne bars also manages room hire for business meetings at London venues such as the Royal College of General Practitioners (which seems a reasonable sort of venue for NICE to book).
Of course, the spending of NHS money by NICE, or anybody else, should be subject to careful scrutiny but in its rush to run the story it seems the Mail overlooked the "careful" element of that scrutiny. This point was made by Sir Andrew Dillon, the CEO of NICE, who wrote to the Daily Mail stating, not unreasonably:
"You have a right... to examine how public bodies spend their money. But if you're going to do it, you should do so with due care and attention. You haven't done so in this case and as a consequence you've both misled the public and damaged our reputation."